John Mueller studied the mechanics of the wars in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in The “Banality of Ethnic War”. Who did the killing, how did they operate, how did they organize?  So-called ethnic wars operate exactly like regular wars. Neighbors do not spontaneously rise up in civil war. The combatants were typically gangs and militias acting in self-interest.

The conventional beliefs were completely wrong. Recent studies show the death toll was only around 100,000 in Yugoslavia, not the fantastically high figures offered at the time. More importantly, politicians confused the issue and would not identify the actual threat. Instead they pushed an ethnic war narrative so to prevent an intervention.

Uneducated politicians and journalists claimed that Yugoslavia fell into an intractable “ethnic war” where generations of pent-up ethnic and religious hatred released itself in an orgy of violence. Western politicians argued they should not get involved in massive sectarian violence that has been ongoing for centuries.

Mueller debunks these myths and demonstrates how the killings took place in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

“I assess the violence in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s and argue that the whole concept of ‘ethnic warfare’ may be severely misguided. Specifically, insofar as it is taken to imply a war of all against all and neighbor against neighbor, a condition in which pretty much everyone in one ethnic group becomes the ardent, dedicated, and murderous enemy of everyone in another group, ethnic war essentially does not exist.

I argue instead that ethnic warfare more closely resembles non-ethnic warfare because it is actually waged by rather small groups of combatants, groups which purport to fight and murder in the name of some larger entity. Often, in fact, ‘ethnic warfare’ is substantially a condition in which a mass of essentially mild, ordinary, and quite normal people can unwillingly and in considerable bewilderment come under the vicious and arbitrary control of small groups of armed and violent thugs.

… Since the violence was mostly carried out by small, opportunistic, and cowardly bands of thugs and bullies, policing the situation would generally not have been very difficult or costly for almost any organized, disciplined, and sizable army.”

John Muellar entire essay is worth reading on its own, but here are some of the salient points on Yugoslavia:

• Serbian nationalists failed to mobilize military or popular support. The Yugoslavian military deserted. Polls showed no popular support for civil war or national breakup at the start of the crisis. The population was integrated across ethnic and sectarian lines.
• Serbian nationalists emptied the jails and recruited gangs and mercenaries to wage war instead of soldiers.
• Gangs sought easy profit. The Serb government provided legal amnesty so long as they directed their attacks on an ‘enemy’ population (i.e. Muslims) and not Serbians. As law and order broke down, Muslims sought protection from Muslim gangs. Gangs took over black markets, charged ‘protection’ fees, and terrorized the population.
• Most citizens fled as refugees. Government authority collapsed and gangs grew.
• Gangs constructed elaborate criminal financial networks and did business with the “enemy” gangs. Money trumped ideology.
• Only a small percentage of Gang members were Nationalists or radical Muslims. Ideology helped form the movements, but pragmatic criminals weeded out the idealists out over time. Smuggling and looting provided greater incentives than cultural hatred.
• There was no populist support for these militant and criminal organizations.
• Absurd rules of engagement restricted NATO and UN troops because of political misunderstanding of the conflict.
• Professional military forces easily routed undisciplined gangs when NATO troops engaged the enemy.

This form of warfare destroyed the nation-state system in Yugoslavia. It caused a cascade failure that disrupted or destroyed critical services including: security forces, government service, communication and transportation, electrical and fuel power, business and market services.

This left communities disconnected and isolated from the rest of nation-state. The economy collapsed, leaving individuals without employment or access to resources. Only the black market and its criminal commanders provided external resources and protection, making criminals the political center of gravity.

Normal civilians were forced to live under gang rule because the alternatives became worse. This is not an indication of “ethnic war” or sectarian hatred.

When we study the mechanisms through which 4th generation warfare operates, the problem is clear and we can form effective strategies. Politicians cloud the issue by pushing false claims of “ethnic war” and “sectarian violence.” Those would not be solvable problems, but thankfully they do not exist. Politicians may push the ethnic war myth to avoid action or possibly because they cannot escape a non-empirical Marxist framework.

Study the mechanics of the violence and you see the underlying problem. That’s the group you target and kill. And killing those groups does stop the violence.

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